Canadian Underwriter

How to wow clients with a great meal and a touch of class

May 4, 2016   by Jessica Bruno

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Wealthy professionals are used to doing business over a good meal. But when you want to show your appreciation, dazzle with a chef ’s table and wine tasting. Even if Gordon Ramsay isn’t in your Rolodex, a night of culinary creativity is within reach.

A chef’s table gathers diners and cooks for a food and wine showcase. Guests dine in-kitchen after watching the chef prepare the meal, and discuss its construction.

At Toronto’s Sassafraz, guests tour the kitchen before sitting down at a VIP table situated on a balcony overlooking the main dining room, says owner Zoran Kocovski.

You choose a preset menu, or chef Geoff Webb can customize the five-course meal. Wine pairings come from wine director Tania Rakchaev or consultant sommelier James Pollock, who also teaches at George Brown College’s culinary school. After Webb explains the dish, and engages in some clever food banter with you and your guests, Kocovski says the meal gets underway.

Staff field questions on ingredients’ provenance, such as whether they’re antibiotic-free. And guests can even ask for recipes, “which we’re more than happy to give out.”

If you want more time with Webb, it’s best to book a night midweek, instead of a Friday or Saturday. If it must be a weekend, “he certainly will give time to the table but it will not be the same.”

Don’t be nervous if you’ve never hosted. A sommelier is there to make you look good, and will arrange a wine list and full dinner menu, or you can propose a theme.

Choose a wine-making region or variety, and she’ll guide you and your guests through what to look for in a great glass.

“Gone are the days of the snotty sommelier who wants to make you feel dumb,” says Erin Henderson, sommelier and founder of The Wine Sisters in Toronto. “We look at the aroma of the wine and understanding its nuances, we look for taste, and we even look for texture and how it feels.”

And throw away stodgy stereotypes. “Is it a rigid, formal event? Not unless you want it to be,” she says. To get the conversation started, she asks guests what they taste or smell in the wine, and whether their perceptions change when it’s paired with a cheese. If you’re feeling stumped for conversation, don’t be afraid to simply ask, “Do you like this wine?”

Guests may start off reserved but, after sampling a couple of wines, people relax and get to know each other. And spittoons are a staple so guests can taste without getting sauced.

“There may be [designated drivers] who want to try the wine,” says Henderson, which is why each pour is small and it’s key to have food to balance the alcohol. While it’s your duty to ensure guests don’t get inebriated, go easy on them if they do while making sure they’ve got a safe way home.

At Trius Winery at Hillebrand in Ontario’s Niagara wine region, the night combines wine appreciation with a little competition. At the pre-dinner reception, an expert gives guests tasting tips. Then everyone sits down to a four-course meal by chef Frank Dodd. The twist: the wine is in opaque glasses, and guests must guess what they’re drinking. The savviest diner wins a bottle.

“It’s a good way to have people who don’t know each other interact in a lighthearted, fun way,” says Sherri Lockwood, spokesperson for Andrew Peller Ltd., which owns the winery.

But if you want a culinary star, look to Jason Parsons.

He, along with chefs Massimo Capra and Michael Bonacini, is one of the Three Chefs, a trio who cook on City’s lifestyle show Cityline. Parsons’ home base is the kitchen at Trius’ sister winery, Peller Estates, also in Niagara.

Private Saturday night dinners start with Parsons hosting canapés in the kitchen. Dinner is in an adjacent room, where he’ll serve some of his best-known dishes, such as lobster linguine.

And guests can come into the kitchen at any time. “If you love those cooking shows and what happens behind the scenes,” says Lockwood, “you can watch it all unfold.”

A version of this article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Advisor’s Edge.

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.

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